Kevin Can F**K Himself is treading new dark comedy ground. Not only is its illicit title fun to say, but the show itself takes viewers in and out of sitcom-style multi-camera formatting and the single camera drama style. Using this novel method, Kevin Can F**K Himself envisions the stereotypical sitcom wife when she walks off camera and all of the slights she’s been made to suffer catch up to her. At once actively funny and devastating, Kevin Can F**K Himself seeks to restore agency to one sitcom wife and reestablish more meaningful connections for her as she tries to escape from what her married life has become.
Mary Hollis Inboden, who plays best friend Patty, and Eric Petersen, who plays the titular sitcom husband Kevin, chatted with CBR about their work on Kevin Can F**K Himself. The actors discussed how they got into character (and kept their Worcester-ite accents), the close creative bubble created by COVID precautions (and how they haven’t seen some of their co-workers’ faces) and the importance, to actor and story, of Patty’s hair.
CBR: Kevin and Patty are both flawed, compelling characters. Can you give us a brief introduction to them and what parts of your characters you found most exciting?
Eric Petersen: So I play Kevin McRoberts on Kevin Can F**K Himself — it’s just so fun to say — and Kevin is a stereotypical, prototypical sitcom husband of sitcoms that you’ve known and loved for years, in that he is a schlubby sort of man-child who lives in this world with his wife and his best friend and his dad and his best friend’s sister, and everybody is just there to basically service his wants and needs. He is the king of his castle, everything seems hunky dory in his world.
What I like about the character is that he is very funny and I do get to do a lot of comedy stuff, a lot of physical comedy stuff. But then what’s also exciting as an actor is that I’m a part of the show — even though my character’s not necessarily saying anything that is revolutionary, the show, I think, is and so being a part of that is really, really exciting for me.
Mary Hollis Inboden: Children of the revolution, man, changing the world. I love Patty. I was very excited by her right off, I think, because on the page and the pilot she appeared so different than me. I’m from the South; I have a kind of a natural smiling face most of the time. That’s not what you get with Patty. She’s sardonic. She’s one of the boys, she revolves, as the boys do, around Kevin, she is there to set him up. But just like [protagonist] Allison, she’s equally dismissed, overlooked, not really included. I mean, her goal, I think, in the sitcom life is to have the boys let her play beer pong, and very seldomly does she get a chance.
Petersen: Even though she’s up next.
Inboden: She’s always up next. But, you know, what Kevin Can F**K Himself explores is this secret life of Allison’s, and Patty gets to do the same. And what we find is there’s more than meets the eye. After reading more of the scripts than just the first episode, I realized that Patty has found a way to survive because she’s got a great side hustle and a lot of secrets that she keeps from the boys. And that, like, fills her up. She gets to be actually helpful — Patty is so full of love and she’s got this kind of altruistic nature about her. And I just love peeling back the layers of that onion, and also having the space to do that in a, you know, a female two-hander.
Petersen: And you do so incredibly brilliantly, you really do.
Inboden: You guys! Thank you so much.
Your characters have such different energy — Kevin is so non-stop and Patty is much more resigned — so how did you get into that headspace?
Inboden: It’s an attitude, for sure. I think when we started — we spent the first three days in the multi-cam set, and I think it was really helpful. This is my first time doing a multi-cam, and I think we all we had a great teacher in Eric Peterson, who’s a multi-cam genius, I’ll say. But also I think I started really hot. I felt like in our first rehearsals, and Eric will probably remember this, that in wanting to participate with the boys I wanted to meet their energy and be up on my feet. There were a lot of takes on that first day where I’m basically like up on the couch and really kind of physically inserting my energy.
In talking to Valerie Armstrong, our show’s creator, the opposite has to be true, because again, circulating in Kevin’s universe, we are there, too, so naturally you want to participate. But as a female in Kevin’s universe especially, I’m there to make room for him and he does suck all the energy out of the room. So the best thing that I can do is just sit back and throw jabs. I watched a lot of Carla from Cheers just throwing zingers. But it was hard to be a woman in that universe because first of all, they never let you play beer pong, you’re always up next, and second, I think it’s natural to want to try to get in there. But that’s not what Patty’s and Allison’s jobs are. We’re supposed to be way more laid back. Icy.
Petersen: In regards to the energy level of Kevin — Yes, he’s always at 11. I think he wakes up, he sits up in bed and is like, “Let’s go!” He is just always ready to rock, which is is fun to play. It can be exhausting; you’d be physically exhausted by the end of the day of doing a bunch of takes where you’re super tense and super energetic. But I think that that’s what kind of fuels a lot of the comedy in it, which hopefully people will enjoy.
Can you tell us anything about the culture behind-the-scenes? What was it like between takes on the Kevin Can F**K Himself set?
Petersen: It was great. So all the actors were — other than Annie, who’s more coming from Toronto, but she’s also LA, I mean, she’s everywhere, she’s Annie Murphy — but most of us were from LA. And we’re coming out to Boston, where we film and then a lot of our crew and creatives, some were New York, some were LA, some were Boston-based. But we were all, because of the COVID guidelines, really in this kind of bubble of creativity. I think we all knew we were making a good show. I think we all knew we were making an important show.
I think we also felt extremely — I don’t wanna speak for everybody, but I know that a lot of us felt extremely lucky to be working during the pandemic because so many of our friends in the arts were just flat out of work. So the fact that AMC was able to do all of the things to make it safe for us to work, I think we all felt really happy about that and blessed and lucky. We had a great experience, and we were always joking around. But I will say it’s slightly odd: There are members of the crew that I don’t know what their face looks like because I’ve never seen them. They all were obviously wearing masks and most were wearing the same goggles, so they literally looked like all the same person, their faces were just exactly the same. So I’ll be excited, if we do a Season 2, that hopefully at some point we’ll all be able to see each other’s faces. It will be huge.
Inboden: I think it’s also just a testament to Annie Murphy being in number one position. You know, coming off of the success of Schitt’s Creek, Eric and I both agree that we’ve been able to watch our best friend become a bona fide star. It really does start at the top, too — the attitude on set starts with that position. And, you know, we’re all very close as a cast, but I think she came in and was just utterly professional and also so very kind and warm and ready to play. And that trickles down. That’s also an environment created by Valerie Armstrong, our show creator. But it was very fun and very informative to film in Boston with our mostly Boston-based crew who, as Eric said, we all kept each other safe during the middle of a pandemic. We were very lucky, very lucky.
Did you base your accents off your crew’s accents?
Inboden: Anytime I started to waver, I’d just go hang out with the transpo guys.
Inboden: You can start to believe, truly, that accent is like unreal.
Petersen: It seems like it’s over the top. People don’t really talk like this; that’s just what they do in the movies. But once you actually see a bunch of, like, regular working class Boston guys, you’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s real.”
Inboden: Yeah, and I don’t you know how much time we have here, but we haven’t yet talked about Patty’s hair and how important that is to the whole journey of the show. A lot of hair. And my hairdresser, named Kristen, is a full Boston local and, again, if I ever started to feel like Patty had left the building, I’d just go to talk to Kristen and she was right back. It’s an attitude; it’s an accent.
Petersen: It’s a lifestyle.
Inboden: So it was just so good to be with them. I think that the show would have suffered a lot had we, say, shot it in Los Angeles and pretended we were in Worcester. I don’t think it would work.
Can you tell us a little about Patty’s hair journey?
Inboden: Patty’s hair journey is very important to me.
Petersen: Mary Hollis is so happy right now, talking about this.
Inboden: I thought you’d never ask. Sorry, Eric.
Petersen: I’ll just go — thanks so much, it was great talking with you!
Inboden: All jokes aside, when I read the script, Patty, she was described as somebody who thinks Foxwoods Casino is the perfect place for vacation. She’s a hairdresser, so she’s done up, but she’s dated. And I think one of the interesting things that Kevin Can F**K Himself does is in the multi-cam, that hair doesn’t look as severe as it does in the single cam. And so it’s a good way into looking at things differently.
I think it looks fabulous in the multi-cam, because it’s shot from far away, and then outside, you realize that what she’s actually done is she’s created armor for herself. It comes in her clothes, she’s constantly got tons of layers between her and the outside world, the hair is thick and big. The liner is a lot, you know, the makeup is way too intense. As we see, as Patty develops her relationship with Allison, her friendship, and becomes more comfortable with herself, that armor starts to fall away. So I think it’s — Yes, I’ll talk about my hair all day long. It’s truly an important piece of the aesthetic of the show.
To bring Eric back in, I’m hoping you can talk about…
Petersen: Let’s talk about Kevin’s hair. No, ask your question, I apologize.
What’s been your favorite of Kevin’s arcs so far? I have to say, I was honestly really into his escape room.
Inboden: I love that episode.
Petersen: That might be one of my favorite episodes. I think that Kevin has a true sitcom arc in that — we’ll go to sitcom class for a second here. I think the thing that we love about sitcoms is that they feel familiar and safe, right? In most dramas, you have a character who starts here and ends in a different place. They’ve been emotionally changed, they’ve grown or they’ve not but they’ve changed in some way, positive or negative. But the reason that we like sitcoms is because we know the characters and they are in different situations every time. So we know Kramer is always going to act that way, Norm’s always gonna say this, we always know that Lucy’s gonna react this way. But we just want to see it happen because we like the characters. So I think that Kevin, he falls into that — he doesn’t change very much. He might have a minute of approaching growth, and then he’s like, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, I’m gonna stay right here. This is what I like and this is where I feel comfortable.” So it was fun to do that. But it was definitely more a traditional sitcom non-arc, or maybe an arc back to itself.
Inboden: So well said.
It was a perfect class, thank you.
Petersen: Papers are due by Friday.
Created by Valerie Armstrong, Kevin Can F**K Himself stars Annie Murphy, Mary Hollis Inboden and Eric Petersen. The series premieres Sunday, June 13 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
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